Bok Mbonambi’s character praised by teammates as racial slur allegation continues to swirl
Springbok coach Daan Human and lock Jean Kleyn testified to Bongi Mbonambi’s good character as he faces an investigation into allegations that he directed a racial slur against England flank Tom Curry.
Away from the cameras and the mics, in gentle rain on the fields of Stade des Fauvettes in the small town of Domont, the Springboks got down to business. And right there in the thick of it, was hooker Bongi Mbonambi.
Away from the thousands at Stade de France, the Springboks focused on the earnest business of preparing to meet their oldest and most respected rivals in the final of Rugby World Cup 2023. Facing the All Blacks requires full attention to detail, no distractions and complete commitment.
“Training went well today in the rain; the big guys enjoyed it especially, and there was a lot of energy,” scrum coach Daan Human said.
The heavy clouds were not just a literal description of the day, but a metaphorical one too. Mbonambi faces a World Rugby investigation into his alleged racial slur directed at England flank Tom Curry during the Boks’ 16-15 semifinal win in Saint-Denis last Saturday.
“World Rugby takes all allegations of discriminatory behaviour extremely seriously,” it said in a statement.
“We can confirm that we are formally reviewing the allegation made by England’s Tom Curry in relation to the use of discriminatory language during the England versus South Africa Rugby World Cup 2023 semifinal on Saturday.
“World Rugby will not be making further comment until the conclusion of the process.”
Mbonambi has not denied the claim. The Springboks and the South African Rugby Union (Saru) have launched their own investigation into the matter. Everyone is cooperating with everyone, it seems.
Yet, here we are with Mbonambi either guilty or innocent, according to social media outrage.
Curry says the Bok hooker called him a “white c**t”. Curry made the accusation to New Zealand referee Ben O’Keeffe during the match, won 16-15 by the Springboks, last weekend.
The Bok management and teammates call Mbonambi a “great character.” Is it one or the other? Can both things be true at once?
It’s complex, yet simple. The fact that no denial has been issued is worrying.
But what is more concerning is that Curry made a claim that no one besides him appears to have seen or heard. An accusation of racism is a massive stain on anyone’s character. Could Curry have misheard or missed something in translation in the heat of battle?
What happened before the alleged incident? So many questions need answering and yet so many conclusions have been made on either side of the divide.
There is one essential fact though. World Rugby’s investigation had better come up with something soon. Mbonambi’s character has been smeared in the week of the biggest game in rugby. And until such time as there is evidence to suggest otherwise, he continues to suffer in the court of public opinion.
Teammate Kleyn and coach Human would not be drawn on details of the accusations when they faced the media at Salle Jeanne d’Arc a few kilometres up the road in the town of Presles.
“I have not been part of any discussions about this,” Human said of the controversy. “But Bongi’s a calm guy actually, a calm guy … no, no, it’s really not a big thing. I don’t want to actually go into it because we’ve got a World Cup final in six days’ time.
“He’s a great character. He’s down to earth, a very humble guy. He’s definitely a guy I would love to have in my team, in our team. That’s it, all I can say about him is he’s a great guy.
“Bongi has been part of this group for over six years, he started in the last World Cup and he started in the semifinal, so he is very important, like all the other players in our group.”
Kleyn also came out in support of Mbonambi.
“Bongi is a great guy and I’ve known him since my days at the Stormers, which is about nine years ago,” Kleyn said. “He’s a fantastic guy, a good individual and, to be honest, I’m not going to comment on that. He’s a fantastic bloke.”
All Blacks notice
The All Blacks were quick to note the issue and couldn’t resist floating the potential problems for the Boks if Mbonambi were to be suspended.
That is highly unlikely though, because even if World Rugby’s investigation does find grounds for a disciplinary hearing, it will take some time to convene and shouldn’t happen until after the final.
Mbonambi remains the only full-time hooker in the squad.
“I learnt about it [the allegation against Mbonambi] this morning. It is something World Rugby will deal with,” All Blacks defence coach Scott McLeod said.
“If anything came of it, it would be a massive dent for them. He is a leader of their team. When Siya [Kolisi, the Springbok captain] goes off, he becomes the captain so I imagine it would impact them.”
If World Rugby finds grounds to take disciplinary action against Mbonambi he could be suspended under law 9.12 which states a player must not verbally abuse anyone. World Rugby regulations prohibit abuse based on, but not limited to “religion, colour, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation”.
There is precedent for this type of offence.
In 2016, England prop Joe Marler (who played against the Boks on Saturday) was given a two-game ban and fined £20,000 for calling Wales prop Samson Lee “Gypsy boy”. DM